Drinking Wine at Tuxedo Park


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We continued our New York adventure by caravaning up to William’s home in Tuxedo Park. I was very excited. Not only would we get to see William’s recently renovated home but we would attend the Traditional Christmas Dinner at The Tuxedo Club. It was a particularly foggy day, so thick that we could only see a few dozen feet into the trees lining the highway. This lent an air of mystery all of the way to Tuxedo. The turn from Tuxedo into Tuxedo Park is initially unassuming until the gentle curve uphill is complete. There you are faced with the megalithic architecture of Tuxedo Park’s Gate Lodge and Keep. The gatekeeper grants admission only to owners and their guests. It is a fantastical entrance to a place the likes of which I have never seen before.

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You might not have heard of Tuxedo Park but if you know what a tuxedo is then you have some awareness of the park’s interesting history. You may read about the origins of the tuxedo in The Wall Street Journal here. Tuxedo Park’s history is a long and quiet. It is located about one hour north of New York City in Orange County. Some 13,000 acres of land was originally acquired in 1814 by Pierre Lorillard II. The land remained unused until the completion of the Erie Railroad in the mid 1880s. In 1885 Pierre Lorillard IV succeeded in obtaining control of 7,000 acres. He originally envisioned Tuxedo Park as an exclusive hunting and fishing preserve for his friends. He planned to stock the land with game, surrounded by a game fence to keep them in, and stock the lakes and pond with fish. His plan quickly expanded to include cottages, stores, schoolhouses, churches, a library, and a hospital. To help develop the property he brought in architect Bruce Price and landscape engineer Ernest Bowditch. In 1886 the Tuxedo Park Association was incorporated to oversee the park and screen applicants. Only the wealthiest families with the highest social standing were allowed access. The first phase of construction lasted from 1886 to the mid 1890s. It included thirteen cottages designed in the Shingle Style. These were meant to be temporary residences thus were small and neither insulated nor heated. A second phase of construction begin at the turn of the century and lasted through several decades into the 1930s. These houses were much larger and designed for year round occupation with heating, plumbing, and electricity. A wide range of architects designed these houses which richly featured such revival styles as Tudor, Jacobean, and Dutch Colonial. As with the lexicon of Bruce Price’s architecture, the new architects were encouraged to subordinate their designs to the natural surrounding of the land.

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Tuxedo Park garnered renewed interest in the 1970s. For several years houses were demolished, lots split, and new houses built which were incongruous to the park. In 1978 Tuxedo Park was nominated as a historic development which was notable for its social and architectural experimentation. The application notes that of the 286 structures surveyed 42% were constructed in the nineteenth century and another 35% prior to World War II. At the time the buildings were still in “unusually good” condition and “beautifully maintained.” In 1979 Tuxedo Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is now a Board of Architectural Review which reviews all aspects of renovation and construction.

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We drove past the Lodge and Keep following several windy roads. These megalithic buildings were completed in 1886 to house the gatekeeper in the Lodge and trespassers in the Keep. Today Tuxedo Park is classified a village thus it maintains its own roads and police force. The gate is now home to the Tuxedo Park Police. Tuxedo Park is set between Cairn Mountain and Eagle Mountain. The land is heavily forested, rather hilly, and full of boulders. Nestled throughout are homes of every description and size. At one point we drove alongside Tuxedo Lake and could easily see beautiful houses dotting the hills and rocky outcroppings of the far shore. During a drive that weekend through the various roads meandering from and surrounding Lake Tuxedo I was primarily struck by the beauty of the rugged hills, the consistency of the forest all the way to the lake shore, and the frequent outcroppings of rock and boulder. Only after taking in the terrain did I notice that the roads simply follow the contours of the land and that the houses, regardless of their size, are placed within the landscape. Many older houses, and at least one notable new house, feature rustic stone walls and terraces on the lower levels binding them to the land as if they were simply the organized rearrangement of materials available at foot. We eventually turned past the Tuxedo Park Club and up a hill to park alongside the Cottswald Cottages.

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We unloaded our car as William promptly made a warming fire in the living room. Once settled in the first order of business was to make a plate of cheese, crackers, and caramel puffs then open some wine.

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Spending the weekend in a historic home certainly deserved a historic wine so we opened 1974 Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco. This wine is 100% Nebbiolo sourced from many different vineyards facing south, south-west, and south-east. The 1974 vintage resulted in a large yield with the wines initially highly regarded but then somewhat less so in retrospect. The Wassermans found several of the Produttori del Barbaresco crus to be drinking at or near prime in the mid to later 1980’s. Indeed the initial glass was marked by woodnotes and a thinness of flavor but the wine itself was in great shape. We set the bottle aside to revisit later in the evening. It eventually fleshed out to show a hint of ripeness and a pure bacon flavor. Even the next morning the remains of the uncorked bottle tasted exactly the same. I suspect this wine will continue to live for some time but now it is more a hint of its past.

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We managed a quick tour of the house, stable, and grounds. Charles H. Coster was a senior partner at J.P. Morgan and Company who owned a large English manor house in a Middle Ages style designed by William A. Bates in 1894. He subsequently built the Cottswald Cottages and Stables in the late 1890s on a road where stables and carriage houses were built for the larger houses of Tuxedo Park. The property, since divided in two, consists of two cottages flanking the bottom of a T-shaped stable and carriage house. The three buildings consist of rough-hewn blue stone, sandstone casements, leaded windows, and slate roofs. The cottages were originally occupied by the servants and stable help. At some point prior to the 1970s the cottages were converted into private residences. While both of the cottages have been recently renovated the stable and carriage house remains in what looks like its original 19th century condition.

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One enters the stable through a gateway in the front wall. Though the gate itself is removed the bolts are still evident. The drive itself consists of a yellow herringbone brickway that extends all the way into the back of the stable. The stable and carriage house is entered through a large sandstone archway flanked by large iron lanterns. The original sliding wood doors still exist inside the building but are resting on the ground off of their rollers. It looks like the carriages were stored in the front portion of the building with the horses stabled in the back.

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The majority of the interior consists of rough stone walls but the middle section consists of old plaster and lathe rooms with a stairwell to the hay loft (and amazingly more rooms). The back stable section was enclosed by two massive sliding doors with the top glass section protected by stout horizontal metal bars. The back wall of the building is covered with white subway tiles whereas the rest of the walls are plaster and lathe. Back here the floor switches to simple brick flooring with ring-bolts set into the tile and X-shaped drains in the floor demarcating the original stalls. Throughout the building virtually every single pane of the leaded windows survives intact. In fact the only hints of the 20th century are the occasional runs of armored electrical cables.

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With the Produttori del Barbaresco set aside I opened the Frank Cornelissen, Rosso del Contadino 9, Etna. A quick sniff of glass revealed we were in for a treat. Frank Cornilissen is a Belgian who makes wine on Mount Etna. He attempts to observe nature by avoiding all vineyard treatments be they chemical, organic, or biodynamic. He produces wine from some 8.5 hectares of vineyards which he harvested late in October to mid November. The Rosso del Contadino is a blend of local red and white grapes from various vineyards. The fruit is crushed by foot and machine, fermented in polycarbonate containers then aged in terracotta amphoras for roughly 10 months. It is bottled without any sulphur after the lees have been purposefully stirred up. This was a great wine with a confident, complex nose of red fruits, Christmas baking spices, and layers of other aromas. For some time the three of us sat there, noses buried in the glasses, trying to capture what we smelled. Eventually we moved on to pour glass after glass of the wine. In the mouth the delight continued with fresh, juicy, and sappy red fruit, persistent and engaging. The timing was impeccable, upon finishing the bottle it was time to dress for dinner.

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We piled in to the car all dressed for dinner then drove down the hill to The Tuxedo Club. The Tuxedo Club opened May 30, 1886 some eight months after Pierre Lorillard IV and Bruce Price picked the location. The club buildings have existed in various forms since then. Today there are facilities for golf, swimming, boating, and racquet sports. The racquet facilities are unique specializing in Court Tennis, Rackets, Lawn Tennis, Paddle Tennis, and Squash. Covered in heavy fog the holiday lights and giant wreaths of the club leant a romantic air. We joined the group in the back room where they were already cocktailing. A quick drink and a few nibbles later the dinner bell was rung and we were seated in the dinning room. Holiday music from a piano greeted us as we promptly sat down.

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The club hosts Formal Dinner Service on Friday and Saturday evenings. The dinner we attended was a fixed three course meal of Roulade of Dover Sole with Scallop Mousseline, Beef Wellington with Sweet Corn Puree, and a dessert of Port and Spice Poached Pear. Wine was not included so I took the opportunity to look through the wine list. The diverse wine list was spread over several pages and included such choices as 1998 Chateau Margaux, a 2008 Hecht & Bannier cuvee, and three vintages Vieux Donjon.

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Tempted as I was by the Vieux Donjon I opted for the 2009 Antica Terra, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley. The bottle was served at the proper temperature which helped show it off. The nose was scented with black and red berries. In the mouth it showed finely textured fruit with just the right amount of acidity. It was thoroughly enjoyable and felt like the perfect choice. I imagine it will benefit from one to two more years in the cellar.

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After dinner we slowly drove home through the thickening fog and retired to the living room. The fire had died out but the house was cozy warm. We opted for one more glass of wine so I opened the 1988 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines, Sauternes. This wine is mostly Semillon with some Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle sourced from 30 year old vines. The fruit was fermented and aged for 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels. The nose and flavors were primarily of complex apple supported by acidity but the body itself was rich and weighty. It left the impression of mature flavors with a youthful delivery. I went to bed that night happy to have spent so much time with William and relaxed by the intimate nature of Tuxedo Park. Visiting Manhattan followed by Tuxedo Park was a memorable experience I shall never forget.

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